Sunday, January 26, 2003

Last week the U.S. Senate approved a proposal from Senator Byrd of WV to inject more cash into the UMWA Combined Benefit Fund from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, as described here. The amendment provides that "any interest" credited to the Reclamation Fund "shall be transferred" to the Combined Fund "up to such amount as is estimated by the trustees of such Combined Fund to offset the amount of any deficit in net assets in the Combined Fund." WV Congressman Rahall has attributed the ongoing final "crisis" of the Combined Benefit Fund to the efforts by coal companies to shirk their responsibilities to contribute. In this interview, he explained that "[o]ne way or another the coal industry is going to pay these benefits. If they continue to get out of their obligations through litigation, they will pay through the interest that accrues to the AML fees that they pay."

One of the court cases disputed by the UMWA Funds was the Sixth Circuit's holding in Dixie Fuel. The Supreme Court overruled Dixie Fuel earlier this term, in this opinion. In August 2000, a GAO report indicated that "if the Dixie Fuel decision is implemented, the Fund may have to refund an estimated net $57 million in premiums to coal companies and would have to find funding for 10,000 additional unassigned beneficiaries."

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